King of the Serengeti is Not the Lion

King of the Serengeti is Not the Lion

In a December 2021 National Geographic article, Peter Gwin portrays the wildebeest as the “Unlikely King of the Serengeti.” That title suggests that the animal and its role are too complex for us to comprehend. In the case of the wildebeest, both their physical design and their incredible mass migrations of more than 1.3 million animals have drawn the attention of scientists.

The wildebeest is an animal that seems to have been fashioned from the parts of other animals. They have a head like a warthog, a neck that looks like an American buffalo, stripes like a zebra, and the tail of a giraffe. Wildebeest are members of the antelope family, but they have small horns, shaggy beards, big humps, and small legs. Their three-week birthing period in January allows them to produce 500,000 calves at the rate of about 24,000 per day. Despite their clumsy appearance, a wildebeest can run 50 miles (80 km) per hour and annually migrate 1,750 miles (2,816 km). They are the largest animals to engage in such a long migratory journey.

In their migration, wildebeest cross rivers in massive numbers. Tourists come to watch these crossings where crocodiles feed on many of the animals. The king of the Serengeti is also a food source for lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards. New studies of the wildebeest and the Serengeti show the complex design of these animals and their environment.

Wildebeest migration follows the rain. As they travel through Kenya and Tanzania, wildebeest can sense where it is raining, and they follow the precipitation. By eating the new grass that the rain produces, wildebeest prevent the grass from growing tall enough for wildfires to develop. The lack of fires allows forests to grow, thus allowing more insects for birds to eat and more leaves to feed the herbivores. That sustains the elephant, giraffe, zebra populations.

It’s easy to see why the king of the Serengeti is not the lion but the wildebeest. It is a keystone species that, by its design, feeds many life forms and, by mass migrations, allows a stable ecology in the Serengeti. This is an example of God’s design of an animal that is only now being understood and appreciated. Everywhere we look, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: The National Geographic issue for December of 2021 is one of the most interesting issues that popular magazine has produced. It is connected to a Disney program that will be streamed starting on December 8. The program titled “Welcome to Earth” will be hosted by actor Will Smith and feature many different animals and plants, including the wildebeest.

Inconsistent Fetal Laws

Inconsistent Fetal Laws

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments on a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks. Protestors on both sides of the abortion issue were active outside of the Supreme Court building. Many abortion advocates, including politicians, have threatened violence if the court strikes Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers as people argue about women’s rights and unborn babies’ rights. While research continues to show the humanity of the unborn child, we see inconsistent fetal laws. 

More than 38 states in America have “fetal assault laws” on the books. In the past 15 years, about 1200 American women were criminally charged for taking illegal recreational drugs resulting in a miscarriage. If someone assaults a pregnant woman, killing the baby, that person is guilty of murder in most states. This was true in Old Testament times as well (See Exodus 21:22-23). 

Researchers at the University of Oxford had the rare opportunity to study gastrulation of a human embryo from an abortion16 to 19 days after fertilization. Lead researcher Shankar Srinivas, an expert in developmental biology, explained that gastrulation is a process that begins about 14 days after fertilization. At that time, different cells emerge and arrange themselves to form various organs in the human body. The new research into gastrulation has the potential to open ways to prevent congenital abnormalities. 

The research by Dr. Srinivas gives a glimpse into early human development. When fertilization occurs, we are dealing with a human, not a blob of chance cellular accumulation. The complexity of this system speaks of God’s design and is precious and unique. A news report quoted Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, the director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, saying that this research shows “recognition of the humanness of the embryo.” 

It is within our grasp to prevent conception and avoid the destructive actions of an abortion that can also cause physical and mental harm to a woman. It starts with understanding that sex is not a meaningless physical act but a joining of two people in a deeply personal relationship. That was God’s plan from the beginning. We understand more and more about how this design works, and a consistent approach to the facts can lead us toward an end to inconsistent fetal laws.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: South Bend Tribune 11/20/21, page 4C and The Week 11/26/21. Here is a link to an APNews article, and you can find the research article at Nature.com.

Women Had to Wear a Head Covering

Women Had to Wear a Head Covering

We recently heard from a female skeptic who said that no woman could accept the biblical teaching that women had to wear a head covering or a veil that hid their face. She was referring to 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 where Paul writes, “Every woman that prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame on her head, for that is to make herself like one of the shameless women who shave their heads. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair, but since to cut her hair short, or shave it off, marks her as one of the shameless women let her be covered.”

This is an excellent example of what any reader of ancient documents needs to understand. You must look at who wrote the document, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people to whom it was written would have understood it. For example, the Greek culture of that day demanded that women had to wear a head covering when out of their home. Otherwise, she was advertising that she was a prostitute.

Paul wrote the Corinthian letters to a particular group in a specific culture. Even today, when we visit a culture that attaches a particular understanding to what a person wears, Christians need to be sensitive to what their clothing conveys. In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul also cautions Christian women to avoid “pearls or costly dresses.” He says he would not eat food that would offend someone if doing so would cause a person to be misled by his example (1 Corinthians 8:8-13).

In those same verses, he points out that Christians have the freedom to eat anything. However, being concerned about how our dress and actions affect others must have a higher priority than expressing our freedom. That is a lesson the American culture needs to learn today.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

So That’s How God Did It!

Fluorine - So That’s How God Did It!

Many years ago, I heard a research scientist who was also a Christian explain his philosophical approach to research by saying, “So that’s how God did it!” For many of us working in scientific fields, that is what science is about. When researchers announce a new discovery, we view it as knowledge that helps us understand what God has done in creating the cosmos and humans.

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. have just announced a solution to one of the chemical mysteries that has baffled astronomers for a very long time. Our bodies contain some common elements that were created in star explosions which scientists have observed. The origin of some trace elements in the human body, such as fluorine, was not easy to determine. Most of us know that fluorine is a critical component of bones and teeth. Toothpaste contains fluorine in the form of fluoride.

Rare stars known as Wolf-Rayets are very massive, and they survive for a relatively short time before exploding. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) of 66 radio telescopes in Chile, researchers detected gas clouds with large amounts of hydrogen fluoride in Wolf-Rayet stars. Scientists could not confirm fluorine production in local stars, but they solved the mystery by finding fluorine in a galaxy 12 billion light-years away. The director of the study commented to CNN that Wolf-Rayets have allowed humans to maintain good dental health.

The simple statement “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) involves a process that science strives to understand. As we gain more knowledge of what is involved in that process, we see that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows the work of His hands” (Psalms 19:1).

Theologians may simply say that God “spoke the creation into existence,” but scientists want to know how. Scientists who are Christians rejoice in a new understanding of God’s handiwork. As we come to understand how God has done wonderful things, we say, “So that’s how God did it!” Then we thank Him for designing a creation in which we can survive.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Reported on CNN.com and The Week, November 26, 2021, page 22 – Research article on Nature.com

Treating Gender Dysphoria

Treating Gender Dysphoria

What response would you make to a 14-year-old girl who has decided she is really a boy and wants doctors to surgically remove her breasts and put her on a puberty blocker and hormone therapy regime? The UCLA School of Law and the American College Health Association tell us that the number of girls seeking treatment to have their sex changed has risen dramatically. In 2008, it was one in 2,000, and in 2020, it was one in 20. There are now over 50 clinics treating gender dysphoria in the United States. There was one in 2007.

Many young people have severe depression issues and are frequently suicidal due to gender dysphoria. Experts debate the cause of this phenomenon while treatments being used are causing more problems. The question is how to go about treating gender dysphoria. Many transgender cases are due to social contagion as friends influence a young person to “come out” as trans. There are online forums of trans teens with large numbers of participants.

An increasing number of transgender persons regret their decision to change their gender. Some have even sued clinics for rushing them into the decision to change without adequate counseling. Many times other mental health issues are involved. Having your testicles or breasts removed is irreversible. Also, the drug treatments are for life and have side effects that may be medically difficult to manage.

The Bible says God created male and female (Genesis 1:27). The original plan works, but surgery, drugs, and a rejection of God’s design have changed that. The tragic result sometimes leaves innocent victims who are negatively affected by what others have done.

The real complication is that treating gender dysphoria has become a political issue. For example, The Week magazine (October 29, 2021, page 11) carried an article about LGBTQ activists committing violence against scientists and doctors who have suggested applying caution regarding medical intervention in trans situations.

Christians must respond to this with love, compassion, and caring. We should do everything we can to help everyone enjoy the blessing of being a confident male or female in an age of confusion and frustration.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Choose Wisely – It Matters

Choose Wisely – It Matters

Every parent knows that it is tough to release our children into the world, to allow them to do things and make their own decisions. We don’t want them to make bad choices, and we are afraid they will fail or get hurt. Every parent has to realize that there is a point where we have to let go of our children, but we just want them to choose wisely.

If we didn’t love them, it wouldn’t be so hard. But, we know that for our children to be truly human, they have to make choices, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. But, we ache for them when they choose wrongly.

Sometimes we let go too soon and sometimes too late. That’s because we are choosing when to let go, and sometimes our choices are wrong. We can all look at our lives and realize that we are guilty of sometimes making bad choices.

Imagine how God must feel. He created humans and let them go by giving them free will. He knew they would make bad choices, but the alternative would be to make them robots, not humans. Robots can’t love, and since God is love (1 John 4:8), He wants us to love Him.

God had no choice but to allow us to have free will because He created us to be persons who would freely choose to love Him. Therefore, it’s up to us to choose wisely.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Dung Beetles and Dirty Jobs

Dung Beetles and Dirty Jobs

When you think of dirty jobs, think of dung beetles. They have the task of cleaning up the savannahs, grasslands, and forests where wild animals live. If you have had the experience of cleaning up after a dog or cat, just think about cleaning up after elephants. A dung beetle can move dung weighing 250 times as much as itself in one night’s work.

There are thousands of species of dung beetles. Some bury the dung where they find it, and some live in it. Others known as rollers take the excrement of elephants and other large animals and roll it into balls. Then they roll the balls to their nests to use as food for themselves and their offspring. They use their back legs to roll the balls, so they are not facing where they are going. Imagine rolling a ball that is larger than you in a straight line without looking where you’re going. So how do they do it?

These beetles can do their cleanup work in the daytime or at night, using the Sun or the Moon to navigate. An African species of dung beetles (Scarabaeus zambesianus) uses polarization patterns from moonlight to chart its direction. Another African species (Scarabaeus satyrus) can stay on course when there is no moonlight. South African researchers using a planetarium for a testing lab found that these beetles can go in a straight line using only the Milky Way on a moonless night. They are the only insects we know of that can use the galaxy to find their directions.

The idea of insects navigating by the Milky Way was a surprise to the scientists. I wonder Who thought of that idea first? (Hint: Perhaps the Designer of insects and the Milky Way.)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Treating Animals as Humans

Treating Animals as Humans

The evidence supports the concept that humans are created in the image of God. Humans have a concept of self that we don’t see in other forms of life. Humans are creative in art and music. All human populations share the capacity to worship. Even though that worship sometimes takes bizarre forms, it still recognizes a spiritual nature. The ability to be taught to think and to reason is not something we see in other life forms. The idea of existence after this life is peculiar to humans. With these things in mind, we should not be treating animals as humans.

Instincts built into the DNA of animals direct their behavior. Even when humans raise monkeys to be human, they ultimately revert to instinctive drives that sometimes culminate in violence. Animal “songs” have survival catalysts communicating territory or securing mates. Human trainers have attempted to teach “art” to animals, resulting in anthropomorphic interpretations by those trainers.

People should not cause animals to suffer or subject them to conduct that violates their nature. The biblical admonition to humans was to take care of the creation, not to abuse it. (See Genesis 2:15.) Treating animals as humans with human values does violence to the animals, depriving them of their instinctive behaviors and putting them in unrealistic environments. It is also a huge waste of resources.

In 2011, PETA sued SeaWorld on behalf of five captured orcas they said were protected under the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery. In 2015, a judge ruled that an orangutan named Sandra had “legal personhood,” which resulted in Sandra being moved to special quarters. Recently, on October 15, 2021, a federal judge in Cincinnati ruled that the descendants of hippos smuggled into Colombia by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar are considered “legal persons” under United States law. According to CBS News India, Pakistan, and Argentina have granted legal rights to animals.

God designed life, and we should treat all animals with respect, allowing them to live in the habitat where they were designed to live. However, that doesn’t require treating animals as humans.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Time magazine, November 8/15, 2021 page 18, and CBSnews.com.

Christian Attitude of Gratitude

Christian Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite national holiday because it’s one time when our nation seems to embrace a uniquely Christian virtue. We aren’t talking about the social grace of saying “thank you,” but what Webster calls “a feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received without payment or obligation. A warm, appreciative response to kindness.” We call it a Christian attitude of gratitude.

Our society has moved to a “survival of the fittest” mentality. This philosophy says that if I have a blessing, it’s because I am more fit, and I have earned it. If I give a blessing, it is because I expect to get something in return. In contrast to this view, the Bible instructs followers of Jesus to have an attitude of gratitude—to be in constant thanksgiving. (See 2 Corinthians 9:11-12; Ephesians 5:4; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 2:7 and 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1 and 4:3-4.) You develop and grow in this attitude because being thankful means caring about others more than yourself. The more mature a Christian becomes, the more gratitude they will have.

Most of the ills in society today are because we have turned away from having a Christian attitude of gratitude and have turned to the survival of the fittest mentality. Divorce happens when we don’t look for the good things our mate brings to us. We must be thankful for their strengths instead of dwelling on their weaknesses. Parents can damage children’s self-image by not expressing genuine gratitude for the positive things children bring to their lives. Old age becomes a real challenge when the family focuses on the burdens the senior brings to them instead of the blessings the person has given through the years.

Romans 1 describes the decadent world in which we live. Verses 21 and 22 tell about an ungrateful person: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”

God does not instruct us to be thankful because He has a huge ego that needs praise. We need to be grateful for every blessing in life because that will shape us into the kind of person we should be. Be thankful to live in America, to have medical solutions for life’s ills, to have enough to eat, a warm home, and loved ones. Whatever blessings you have, don’t take them for granted. Develop a Chrisitan attitude of gratitude and have a thankful Thanksgiving.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Animal Therapy Theories

Animal Therapy Theories

Various mental health professionals and organizations use animal therapy in their practices. The animals soothe and calm hospital patients, provide emotional support, and even help in treating addictions. Therapy animals have included dogs, cats, pigs, horses, ducks, and other mammals and birds.

What can animals do to bring emotional comfort and stress relief to humans? Scientists are conducting clinical research to give objective answers to that question. In the meantime, we all know of subjective experiences where animals have given mental and emotional help to humans. There are also some cases where things did not work out so well, as when a petting zoo brought a bear cub to a university campus to soothe students during final exams. Unfortunately, the bear bit fourteen students, resulting in a rabies scare.

Scientists never want to rely on anecdotal evidence. Instead, they want to know if animal therapy works and why. Part of the importance of the scientific studies is that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to cover the cost of service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Insurance companies struggle with similar questions concerning doctor-prescribed service animals for patients with mental health issues.

While scientists struggle to discover the facts regarding animal therapy, many people claim to have received comfort, stress relief, and companionship from their pets. Some scientists have suggested what they call the biophilia hypothesis. According to that hypothesis, the desire to affiliate with animals results from our common evolution from lower life forms.

We suggest another explanation for the fact that humans relate so well to animals. We believe that the Creator gave us animals, especially mammals and birds, to be our companions and helpers. We relate to them, we learn from them, and they serve us in many ways. The truth is that humans have survived through the ages with help from mammals and birds. They are a gift from God.

— Roland Earnst © 2021